By Sayyed Idris Abdullah Abed Al Senussi.
The transition of Libya from decades of Qaddafi’s authoritarian regime into a democratic state was never . . .[restrict]supposed to be an easy process. It was one thing to oust Muammar Qaddafi, another to put in place a workable administration based on an all-inclusive, democratic participation.
The current fragmentation of Libya among regions, tribes and localities, the splintering of our society into multiple bickering armed groups, and the rise of warlords vying for power by using tribal, religious and ethnic loyalties in order to win over local constituencies are tearing Libya apart.
If a settlement is not reached in the coming weeks, Libya might fall over a precipice from which salvation might be beyond human capacity. History suggests that anarchy and violence drive people to escape from freedom into the arms of dictators. We need to cut short any nostalgia that might develop in our midst for the Gaddafi regime.
Nor should one be surprised at the emergence of a threat from Daesh (the Islamic State – IS) in Libya. Sadly, our country has become, like Syria and Iraq, the kind of habitat where IS and its murderous fantasy of a borderless caliphate can prosper. Institutional vacuum, disorder and armed conflict are the ideal recruiting grounds for IS. Merging foreign invaders with local sects and groups is what produces these IS squads in parts of our country.
Libya’s predicament is not obviously worse than that, say, of Algeria in the early 90s. The consequences of failure, however, may be greater. We run the risk of being left to the likes of IS and its sympathisers and would-be emulators, all of which thrive in the kind of political vacuum that prevails these days in Libya.
Libya’s future lies in recovering the spirit of the revolution that ousted Qaddafi. We need to recuperate the hope for freedom and democracy, national unity and prosperity for all that motivated us in those heroic days of the 2011 revolution. Though Libya never had the kind of cleavages of sect and ethnicity that divided some other states throughout the Arab geography, it has nonetheless a rich socio-tribal tapestry.
It is vitally urgent to build the democratic institutions that would allow us to give backbone to our diverse society into a system that unites us all behind shared values of peace and co-existence. Our democratic settlement needs to be all-inclusive.
We, Libyans, are proud Muslims. Religion is part of our collective identity. But, it has always been an Islam that sprang from our tradition of tolerance and co-existence. We are not an extremist nation. Moderate Islam will give us an avenue in which to add another brick to the anti-extremist wall that we need to build.
Fighting IS and the extremism of other radical groups is fighting for the Islam of our forefathers’ faith as we always practiced it in our country. We always combined faith with tolerance. Today we are called to reconcile it with democracy, modernity and prosperity.
Libya’s future lies in peace within itself, with its immediate neighbours in North Africa, and with the broader international community. The United Nations as the embodiment of the international community is bound to be a key factor in a peaceful transition of Libya to order and stability. We must support and facilitate its work in this difficult transition to democracy. The UN is a fair broker to whom we owe recognition for its role and credibility in securing Libya’s independence in 1951.
We are grateful to the foreign countries that supported our revolution and helped us in doing away with the old dictatorial regime. But they know that the old days of colonialism and subjection to foreign powers are over. The international community is now assisting us in helping ourselves; it is interested in a stable, democratic and prosperous Libya not in order to control it, or seize its wealth. They know that our instability can affect their peace and security. The same needs to be said of our immediate neighbours in the Maghreb. It is the fear of a spillover of our current anarchy across their borders that make them so restless and concerned.
Yet none of our neighbours can solve our problems, nor should we look for a North African gendarme. I do recognise, however, that a unified North African front has potential to help contain extremism, and prevent outside interference through enhanced border surveillance, information sharing and the warding off of external military interference.
Libya’s struggle for the future it deserves would not end with the settlement that we expect will emerge out of the current negotiations under the good services of the UN. After the settlement is reached, we would still have to work for the consolidation of our new democratic institutions, and for the strengthening of the judicial system without which no democracy can operate. And, we shall still have to build a strong and modern army out of the plethora of armed groups and militias, an army that is immune from cooptation by the city-based militias, extreme Islamist groups or any other power interest.
Last, but not least, we need to rescue our declining economy. These are days of radical change in the global energy market, and our oil industry will have to adapt itself to the new realities. We need also to create modern industrial and agricultural structures that employ large numbers of our brethren in productive jobs. Much of the work would have to be done by the Libyans themselves, and with Libyan money.
We can, however, use outside technical support and create joint ventures with foreign investors. Foreign governments and private initiatives need to be welcomed to play a role in developing modern infrastructures, medical centres and new industries. Libya’s predicament requires that we acknowledge the potential stabilising role of the private sector.
These are historical and crucial times in Libya’s life cycle. It is incumbent upon us to rise to the challenge of leaving behind old and new divisions, of superseding the temptation of catering to particular and local interests and unite to build a free, prosperous and all-inclusive Libya.
This opinion article appeared in El Pais on 5 March. Sayyed Idris Abdullah Abed Al Senussi is president of the Senussiya Foundation.
Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the Libya Herald.